1st U.S.A President: George Washington
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FACTS ABOUT GEORGE WASHINGTON:
-George's great-grandfather, John Washington (1632-1677), came to America by accident. He was mate on a small English ship that went aground in the Potomac River in 1656 or 1657. By the time the ship was repaired, he had decided to marry and settle in Virginia.
-Birthday. George Washington was born on Pope's Creek Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on Feb. 22, 1732
-As a youth, Washington was sober, quiet, attentive, and dignified. His respect for his elders and his dependability made him admired. He experienced the hardships of colonial life on the edge of the wilderness. He learned that life was difficult. This knowledge helped make him become strong and patient.
-After teenaged George Washington gave up hopes of becoming a sailor, he became interested in exploring the frontier. Becoming a surveyor and marking out new farms in the wilderness would give him a chance to seek adventure and earn money. He enjoyed mathematics. He easily picked up an understanding of fractions and geometry. Then he took his father's old set of surveying instruments out of storage. At 15, he began studying to be a surveyor.
-At the age of 20, George Washington had no experience or training as a soldier. But he became interested him in military affairs. He applied to the governor of Virginia for a commission in the militia. In December 1752, he was commissioned as a major. He was put in charge of training militia in southern Virginia. Washington probably prepared for his new duties by reading books on military drills and tactics.
-The 22-year-old Washington was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He received orders to enlist troops to man a new fort. He found Americans resentful because the Virginia government refused to pay them as much as regular British soldiers. Washington himself threatened to resign because his pay was lower than that of a lieutenant colonel in the regular British Army. Perhaps for the first time, he realized that American colonists were treated unfairly. It also may have been the first time he thought of himself as an American rather than as an Englishman.
-Washington returned to Virginia after the French-Indian War to hang up his sword. He was now the most famous American-born soldier. He knew how to train other soldiers and how to run an army. More important, he had shown courage and patience in leading his men.
-On Jan. 6, 1759, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis. She was a widow, eight months older than George. The marriage probably took place in New Kent County, Virginia, at the bride's plantation home. Her home was called the White House.
-As a large landowner, Washington had to supervise many different activities. He wanted to learn more about farming, so he bought the latest books on the subject. When he discovered he could not grow the best grade of tobacco at Mount Vernon, he switched to raising wheat. He saw the profit in making flour, so he built his own flour mill. Large schools of fish swam in the Potomac River. Mount Vernon became known for the barrels of salted fish it produced. Washington experimented with tree grafting to improve his fruit orchards.
-Washington became one of the first American leaders to consider using force to "maintain the liberty of the colonies." He wrote George Mason in April 1769: "... That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment to use arms in defense of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends, is clearly my opinion; yet Arms I would beg leave to add, should be the last ... resort."
-On June 14, 1775 Congress called on Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to send troops to aid Boston. The city had been placed under British military rule. John Adams rose to discuss the need of electing a commander in chief. In later years, Adams would be Washington's vice president and successor as president, Adams praised Washington and said his popularity would help unite the colonies. Many New England delegates believed a northerner should be made commander in chief. But the following day Washington was elected unanimously.
-To most Americans of his time, Washington became the chief symbol of what they were fighting for. The colonists had been brought up to respect the British king. They did not easily accept the idea of independence. The Congress that approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, was not elected by the people, but by the legislatures of the states. And the legislatures were elected only by property owners. As a result, some people who did not own property and had no vote viewed independence with suspicion. Thousands of Loyalists, as British sympathizers were called, refused to help the fight for independence.
-In May 1782, Colonel Lewis Nicola sent a document to Washington on behalf of his officers. It complained of injustices the army had suffered from Congress. It suggested that the army set up a monarchy with Washington as king. Washington replied that he read the idea "with abhorrence." He ordered Nicola to "banish these thoughts from your mind."
-In February 1789, members of the first Electoral College met in their own states and voted. Each elector voted for two candidates. The candidate who received the most votes became president. The runner-up became vice president. Washington was elected president with a total of 69 votes—the largest number possible—from the 69 electors. John Adams was elected vice president with 34 votes.
-Washington believed that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government should be separate. The Constitution provided for such separation. He thought the president should not try to influence the kinds of laws that Congress passed. However, he believed that if he disapproved of a bill, he should let Congress know by vetoing it. Washington regarded the duties of his office largely as administering the laws of Congress and supervising relations with other countries.
-During his first administration, Washington relied on the advice of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, a congressman from Virginia. At first, Washington did not call his department heads together as a group. Instead, he asked them to give him written opinions or to talk with him individually. Washington allowed his department heads to act independently. He did not try to prevent Hamilton, Jefferson, or the others from influencing Congress. Toward the end of his first administration, he began calling the group together for meetings. In 1793, Madison first used the term cabinet to refer to the group.
-Washington was disturbed as he saw that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were disagreeing more with each other. Voters and newspapers who supported Hamilton's views of a stronger national government called themselves Federalists. The Federalists became the party of the Northern States. They also represented banking and manufacturing interests. Those who favored Jefferson's ideas of a strict interpretation of the Constitution in defending states' rights became known as Anti-Federalists. They were also called Democratic-Republicans. The Democratic-Republicans mainly represented the Southern States and the farmers.
-In 1792, Washington began to make plans for retirement. In May, he asked Madison to help him prepare a farewell address. Madison did so. But he urged Washington to accept reelection as president. Hamilton, Knox, Jefferson, and Randolph each asked Washington to continue as president. One of the strongest arguments came from Jefferson. He wrote: "Your being at the helm will be more than an answer to every argument which can be used to alarm and lead the people in any quarter into violence or secession. North and South will hang together if they have you to hang on."
-In May 1796, Washington dusted off the draft of his Farewell Address that he and James Madison had worked on four years earlier. He sent it to Jay and to Hamilton for their suggestions. Finally, in September, the much-edited address, all in Washington's handwriting, was ready. He gave it to the editor of the American Daily Advertiser, a Philadelphia newspaper. The paper published it on September 19.
-When he died, Washington whispered: "I am just going. Have me decently buried, and do not let my body be put in the vault in less than two days after I am dead. Do you understand me?" His secretary answered: "Yes, sir." Washington said: "'Tis well." He felt for his own pulse. Then he died.
Chase, Philander D."Washington, George." World Book Advanced Encyclopedia. World Book, 2013.
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